Updated: 9:11 a.m. ET Feb. 22, 2005
WASHINGTON - President Bush is calling on European leaders to support his campaign to spread democracy abroad at a time people in many of those countries have doubts whether that should be the U.S. role in the world, Associated Press polling found.
A majority of people in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain said they thought it should not be the U.S. role to spread democracy, according to AP-Ipsos polls. A majority of those living in Canada, Mexico and South Korea also disagreed with that role.
Bush is on a five-day fence-mending trip to Europe after tensions were raised there by the war in Iraq. In a speech Monday in Brussels, Belgium, the president promoted democracy as the path forward for a host of countries, from Saudi Arabia to Iran and Syria, and urged European leaders to move beyond the rift over Iraq and join his pro-liberty campaign.
“This strategy is not American strategy, or European strategy, or Western strategy,” Bush said in an echo of the broad themes of his inaugural address a month ago. “Spreading liberty for the sake of peace is the cause of all mankind.”
'Wariness and resentment'
Yet the public skepticism reflected in a new AP-Ipsos poll in Europe indicates the American president faces plenty of work on that front — a development that analysts of international relations suggested was not surprising.
“There’s still wariness and resentment of the United States in general,” said Michael Mandelbaum, a professor who specializes in European studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Bush’s efforts, he said, were having a limited impact in spreading democracy.
“In the wake of the Iraq war, there’s particular suspicion of this administration,” Mandelbaum added.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett suggested that foreigners may misunderstand Bush’s plan to spread the liberties that Europeans and Americans take for granted.
“People get in their mind that spreading freedom means war and that’s not the case,” Bartlett said in an interview Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Some of those opinion polls are reading in to it a little more than what President Bush intends.”
Resistance to Bush’s plans to promote democracy abroad was strongest in France, with 84 percent saying the United States should not play that role, according to the polling conducted for the Associated Press by Ipsos, an international polling firm.
About as many Germans took that position, 78 percent, while two-thirds of those in Britain said they didn’t think the United States should be exporting democracy. Just over half of those in Spain and Italy felt that way.
“It’s hard to believe our allies are indifferent to the spread of democracy,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. “But they obviously don’t feel comfortable with George Bush as the self-annointed spreader of democracy.”
In the United States, a slight majority, 53 percent, said the United States should not be trying to spread democracy, while 45 percent said the United States should play that role.
“Europeans in general — especially the European elites — tend to be more cynical about the possibilities of exporting democracy,” said Mandelbaum, author of the book “Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy and Free Markets.” “There is a general feeling that democracy just doesn’t fit some cultures.”
Minimal impact on U.S. consumer
While people in many of the countries polls don’t approve of Bush’s policies, that does not appear to be having much impact on how they view U.S. consumer goods.
For example, attitudes about U.S. goods in France, lukewarm at best, have not shifted significantly since December 2001, before the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
About two in 10 of the French said they would rather buy U.S. goods than other types of goods available in their country if the price and quality were the same. About one in 10 said U.S. products were better quality than other goods available. Neither number has changed much since before the Iraq war.
“If anything there’s been a little more traction to boycotting of French goods in America than of American goods in France, said John Quelch, a Harvard University professor who studies international marketing. “There is no evidence of significant spillover of tensions about American foreign policy into consumer purchase behavior in Europe.”
In most of the countries polled, people were not likely to prefer American goods over local goods. They were inclined to think American goods were worth the money, but they did not think they were better quality than local products.
In most of the countries, young adults were more likely to be enthusiastic about buying American goods and working at American companies.
The findings are based on polling of about 1,000 adults in each of the nine countries surveyed from Feb. 9-17 and each poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.